Above the Streets (ATS) promotes positive youth development by using basketball as an agent of change in the lives of court-involved young people and those engaged in substance abuse treatment. The ATS League is designed for agencies working with young people (ages 16-24) who are in the process of addressing past mistakes and life challenges as part of reintegrating in the community and restarting educational and employment pursuits.
Founded by a project coordinator in a youth workforce development program operated by the Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services (CASES), ATS currently includes teams representing nine agencies in New York City:
- Brooklyn Treatment Court
- Doe Fund
- Fortune Society
- Friends of Island Academy
- Getting Out, Staying Out
- Phoenix House
- Williamsburg Community Center
These agencies operate a range of alternative-to-incarceration (ATI), education, employment, reentry, and treatment programs for young people. Many of these programs are based on high expectations and court mandates that require accountability from participants, who can be dismissed from programs for myriad reasons including drug use, poor attendance, and further criminal involvement. Program dismissal often results in incarceration, and ATS provides a powerful incentive and motivational tool for participants to fulfill their program obligations so they can maintain eligibility for league games.
ATS games are played weekly (over two nights) at the Williamsburg Community Center. The season is a double round-robin followed by playoffs that include all teams, which are seeded based on results of the regular season. The championship is a best-of-three series.
In addition to providing an incentive for participants to complete program requirements at their organization/agency, ATS promotes the positive youth development outcomes of participating in sports. Staff leading ATS teams – employees at youth service agencies with extensive experience working with court-involved and at-risk young people – emphasize value-building as opposed to game outcomes. Goals include helping participants develop increased motivation and resiliency, as well as improved confidence, emotional regulation, self-knowledge, and prosocial/teamwork skills. For young people often significantly disconnected from positive peer influences and common community supports (e.g., school, family support, employment, etc.), participation in ATS provides a powerful experience of positive connection.
In recognition of his founding and leadership of ATS, CASES’ Willard Beale was awarded a Certificate of Appreciation by Judge JoAnn Ferdinand of the Brooklyn Treatment Court.